I Was A Teenage Doctor Who Fan In America
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A tale of peer-pressure and devotion to a low-action hero in a high-action culture...
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who. I remember pretending I was asleep, and waiting up to watch the TV from my room, so that I could see my favorite time traveler solve yet another problem. I longed for the day when, on my way to school, I would come across a wholly out-of-place police box, and be whisked away for wondrous adventures in time and space, fighting Daleks and Cybermen, righting wrongs, and generally being pretty incredible. Which is all well and good for a young child to do.
Unless you live in the American Mid West, that is.
" It was bad enough getting the teasing we got for our hours of diatribe about Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, or He-Man, but when you brought up Doctor Who, it brought on a whole new punishment"
For years here in the US, Doctor Who was only shown on Public Television, and later at night, when they showed other programs imported from Britain. I grew up in a family that enjoyed those programs, where as many of my peers did not. All through school, I only had about three or four friends that watched Doctor Who. But we were a rare breed. It was bad enough getting the teasing we got for our hours of diatribe about Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, or He-Man, but when you brought up Doctor Who, it brought on a whole new punishment.
First off, Doctor Who was cheap. American made sci-fi programming was acceptable, because the sets, costumes, and ships looked like they were going to last through the episodes. You couldn’t see strings holding the ships up in front of the camera. And the villains didn’t typically wear badly made rubber suits and masks. The typical kid growing up in the US didn’t fear the Dalek because it represented forced conformity and loss of individuality, but rather poked fun at the toilet plunger it had attached to it. Cardboard ships and sets didn’t help sell the show either. While I could look past the visual and enjoy the story underneath all of it, my contemporaries wanted a show that looked, well, believable. And let’s face it, when every other planet is a quarry, you lose some folks’ attention.
"The typical kid growing up in the US didn’t fear the Dalek because it represented forced conformity and loss of individuality, but rather poked fun at the toilet plunger it had attached to it"
Second, The Doctor wasn’t physical enough. Sure, Jon Pertwee was good for the occasional fist fight or some sword play, but over all, he wasn’t what American youth wanted in a hero. We’re a country of cowboys, and that’s what kids want in a hero. They want a Luke Skywalker or a Captain Kirk, the guy that’s going to go into a situation and kick ass. The Doctor was usually taken prisoner and hauled in front of whoever was in charge, explained to what the situation was, and he talked his way out of any and all problems. Sure, sometimes violence was called for, but usually, he used his quick wit, vast knowledge of everything, and his sonic screwdriver to get the job done (and on those very special occasions, a Jelly Baby or two).
But that wasn’t the only “action” that American audiences wanted. Most people couldn’t understand how a man and a woman could travel around that much and not wind up in the sack together. Obviously, The Doctor has baggage, but this wasn’t a show about how many chicks he could nail while solving the universe’s problems (that’s why we now have Captain Jack Harkness). Besides, if you couldn’t just sit back and enjoy looking at Leela, then something’s wrong with you.
"Most people couldn’t understand how a man and a woman could travel around that much and not wind up in the sack together"
And third and worst of all, Doctor Who is filled with techno babble. In fact, there’s just too much talking altogether. It was too cerebral a show for many kids – and in fact, adults – of the time. The Doctor was a scientist, after all, and it only made sense that he would take the well-thought out path rather than the shoot first method. This point was made even clearer during The Doctor’s brief involvement with UNIT. Logic will always triumph over brawn and military might. And that was a message that American audiences weren’t ready to deal with.
But the good news in all of this is, American audiences seem to be warming up to the good Doctor. The rebooted series was shown on SciFi Channel (now SyFy, which just seems stupid to me, but I guess that’s why I don’t run television stations), and now on BBC America (SyFy claimed that Doctor Who didn’t register high enough ratings to renew it, although BBC America has no problem bringing the viewer in).
Suddenly, people who never cared for the show before are watching it with a renewed interest, and I can find more and more people to talk about the show with. IDW Publishing has been putting out Doctor Who comic books left and right, from new stories to reprinting the Marvel line from the eighties, and even putting out some collections of comics from Doctor Who Magazine (and for anyone that would love to see what The Ten Doctors would look like, check out a graphic novel called The Forgotten). And while I’m sad that David Tennant has vacated the TARDIS, like a good fan I look forward to see what Matt Smith with do with the role, and in what direction Steven Moffat will take the series from here.
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